Medical flights that are considered safe to carry patients infected by COVID-19 are seeing a huge bump in demand at the current time. The surge in demand started in about March and continues to hold strong. The COVID-19 infection numbers have seen a temporary remission but have been on a rise recently. Medical flights have been a great source for repatriation during these troubled times. The fact that the world is now slowly opening up despite the high number of infections is adding fuel to the existing demand.
Medical Flights Find it Easier to Cross Borders Now
Earlier when the COVID-19 had just hit the world, nations across the globe had closed their borders. This had posed a logistical challenge as the process to obtain special permission to enter some nations can be quite long-drawn and tedious. However, at the current time, most countries are opening their borders with some safety precautions being put in place. The world today realizes the fact that hiding from the virus is no solution, rather it is the will to fight it through adequate precautions that matter. This attitude has benefited the medical flights that conduct repatriations.
Many People are Still Stuck in Foreign Countries
COVID-ready medical flights are seeing that most of their flights are beyond their home countries. It is natural that in today’s highly connected world, many people live abroad and do so for years. For someone who has been outside for years together, it isn’t easy to leave everything and head back home. However, if one contracts the infection – especially if it is severe – the preference usually is to seek treatment close to the loved ones. Medical flights are the only recourse in situations like these. With the resurgence of infections in most European countries and part of the United States, the demand for medical flights is slated to go up further.
Sounds a little odd that medical flights are a part of F1 racing, right? Not when you look at it closely. The safety rules surrounding F1 necessitate that any injured driver receives treatment within 20 minutes. However, it is impossible to get treatment at that speed without the involvement of medical flights. In fact, air ambulances are always on standby during the races. Not just that, they are kept ready even during practice sessions. Any time the medical flights are not able to function due to one reason or the other, the race itself is canceled. Such is the importance attached to the availability of quick reach to treatment and air ambulances are a big part of it.
The Recent Unavailability of Medical Flights during Practice Sessions
The practice session was recently canceled at the Nurburgring track. The reason was the inability of medical flights to function due to adverse weather conditions. The track is prone to thick fog during certain times of the year, and this is an obstacle to operate air ambulances. Recently, two practice sessions were abandoned due to this reason. The fans that were there to watch their favorite sports stars were in for a disappointment.
Change in Protocols to Maintain Safety
The third session of the F1 practice session was held with a few changes in the protocol without compromising safety. Land ambulances were kept handy in case of emergencies. They would transport the injured to a certain distance where an air ambulance would be stationed and ready to go to the nearest appropriate facility. The medical flight was parked in a location where the weather conditions were congenial. The entire protocol was designed such that the evacuation would still be possible within 20 minutes. Of course, if the weather clears up, there would not be a need for the new protocol at all.
Medical flights can fly above almost any terrain but landing can be a worry. Rappelling from choppers has its own risk, putting the lives of the rescuers and the injured in grave danger. Spinning out of control and hitting adjacent rocks in a mountainous environment are just a few of the risks. That said, for people stranded in the toughest of the terrain with no access to roads, medical flights are the only recourse. However, these too are not without logistical restrictions. Reaching the stranded ones, especially when they are injured, is a logistical nightmare. Getting the medical staff to such terrains is almost impossible, and the people, who can reach them, often lack the medical expertise.
Jet Suits Can Further the Reach of Medical Flights
Imagine donning a jet suit to bounce out of medical flights, reaching the injured on time, and flying back again into the air ambulance. That can do wonders, right? While it might seem like a scene from a James Bond movie, it may soon become a reality. In fact, a British company is currently working towards exactly this. The company that is behind this brilliant effort is Gravity Industries. The organization recently released a video where they simulated a rescue mission in a jet suit.
About the Simulation
The simulation published by the company shows a paramedic pilot in a jet suit, traversing tough terrains to rescue an injured 10-year-old girl. The entire effort takes just about 90 seconds, whereas the same rescue on foot would take about an hour and a half. The suit makes way for travel at an astounding 51 km per hour and can move horizontally as well as vertically. If this is finally good enough for use in real-life situations, it can augment the efforts of medical flights to a huge extent. For now, we will just have to wait and watch, hoping that it becomes a reality soon.
The COVID-19 pandemic is slowly making inroads into rural America. The higher number of elderly people living in rural communities is especially vulnerable now. Moreover, the infection is known to be fatal to people with diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments that impact natural immunity in human beings. All things considered, people living in rural parts of the country must have access to medical flights. However, this is turning out to be a huge problem for organizations that offer air ambulance services. It has again boiled down to balance billing, insurance denials, and financial burden to patients.
Medical Flights Being Denied Coverage is a Concern
Medical flights are a part of an industry that is highly competitive and which is already struggling to stay afloat. The COVID-19 situation has created an emergency of sorts throughout the nation and medical flights need to play a huge role in offering adequate coverage to rural communities. However, the threat of inadequate coverage is limiting its services. In this context, it must be noted that when coverage is denied by insurance companies, the burden is shifted to the patients. This presents a significant financial burden to the patients that can run into several tens of thousands.
The Percentage of Balance Billing is Small but Significant
About 300,000 air ambulance evacuations are carried out every year; of this, 3% end up in balance bills. This is primarily due to insurance denials. Most of these denials are due to the service provider being out-of-network.
The providers of medical flights too have not been keen on going in-network with insurance companies. The reason for this is the fact that reimbursements rates have remained unchanged. However, there is hope. With states like Florida looking to revise insurance reimbursement rates, the scenario could change soon.
Keeping medical flights afloat during the ongoing COVID-19 spread is turning out to be an uphill task for most air ambulance companies. Several issues that were never thought of before are surfacing now. Shortage is a word that is widespread in the industry today. We take a look at some of the issues that are hindering the functioning of the industry.
Professionals Being Moved Away from Medical Flights
The shortage of frontline, qualified medical staff is a well-known problem in the current scenario. No amount of frontline medical workers is proving enough to tackle the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, staff serving medical flights is being called to fill this deficit. The development is quite understandable, but it is certainly hindering the air ambulance services.
Lack of Adequate Medical Flights
COVID-19 has given too little time for medical flights to adapt. Isolation facilities are not good enough to carry infected patients in most medical flights. Employing these can, no doubt, put the frontline workers at risk of contracting the highly contagious infection.
Lack of Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment is essential if emergency workers are to function seamlessly. However, every country around the world is currently facing a shortage of these. This is a huge roadblock.
Fall in Emergency Cases
The lockdown that is being followed in almost all countries around the world has translated into less road traffic, and as a consequence, MVAs have gone down. Also, it is not easy for people to procure illicit substances, so related cases have also gone down. There is, therefore, a slight slump in demand, which is quite welcome.
Once the world goes back to normal, it is expected that the medical flights too will be able to function normally. Until then, the industry will function as efficiently as possible given the constraints.
As the United States comes to a realization that its healthcare system – one of the most expensive in the world – is not all that prepared to handle the Coronavirus or COVID-119 pandemic, medical flights are turning out to be the most viable option, especially for rural communities of the country. According to one estimate by Kaiser Health News, there are over 7 million people in the United States who are 60-plus and at a particularly high risk of severe Coronavirus infection. Now, add to the mix, the fact that over half of the counties in the country do not have enough intensive care beds and the magnitude of the problem suddenly dawns upon us.
Reaching Intensive Care Units via Medical Flights
Intensive care units usually have high-tech bedside equipment that is, otherwise, absent in regular healthcare facilities. They have ventilators that are essential for survival in severe COVID-19 cases. In this context, it must be noted that in most counties, where intensive care units are available, the number of beds is hugely limited. At times, it is just one bed for a few hundred seniors. For instance, it has been highlighted that in Jefferson County, the Louisville area has just one intensive care unit bed for almost 450 people. If you thought that was bad, imagine the state of Santa Cruz, California, which just has one for over 2,500 people. However, the numbers improve significantly when it comes to urban areas. This gap can be efficiently bridged by medical flights.
Costs, Insurance, and Medical Flights
In the days to come, it is the will of the government that will matter the most. If drastic steps are taken to take care of the cost of medical flights through better insurance coverage or government aid, the situation can be handled better. At the current time, a clear indication needs to go out to the providers of medical flights, so that they can prep their choppers and airplanes to aid in the containment of the pandemic in a timely manner.
In the prevailing scenario, patients and emergency personnel rely heavily on phone calls to summon medical flights. The methodology is highly time-consuming and necessitates a lot of information to set up an air ambulance and then dispatch it. This is not an ideal situation when the patient needs urgent care, especially when technological advancements are capable of making things much easier. We use mobile applications every day to order taxi services. What if we could replicate the model to order medical flights too? Would it not be an ideal replacement for the current time-consuming methodology? Let’s take a look at the different aspects.
Integrating Medical Flights – More Power to Choose
Imagine a mobile application that allows you to choose from a list of air ambulance service providers. Out-of-network services will cease to be a problem and insurance companies will be more likely to approve the claims that a consequence of ordering medical flights. From patients to physicians, everyone would have instant access to multiple service providers. The app can also feature details about air ambulance affiliations with various insurance networks. The whole exercise would be much more efficient than it currently is.
Integrating Medical Flights with Electronic Health Systems
Patient information is today stored in highly secure electronic health systems. Hospitals and medical service providers are mandated by the government to store patient information in these systems. What this means is that all patient information such as medical history, allergy, family history, etc., is readily available during emergencies. Imagine connecting this data to the patient through the app. As soon as medical flights are called for, a notification can directly go to the receiving physician, along with all the medical details. If this becomes a reality, the receiving facility would be much better prepared for the patients and will be able to offer timely care, resulting in faster recovery.
Amid thundering engines and pounding heartbeats, crews of medical flights set out on life-saving missions every day. The mission starts even before the takeoff. The planning begins with choosing the right crew, the right aircraft, ground coordination, specialists – the list goes on. On long-haul flights, it is also about accommodating the crew members of the medical flights once they land in far off places. Accounting for all the eventualities is what makes a mission successful.
Medical Flights beyond Borders
It takes anywhere between 12 hours to a day to get appropriate permissions for medical flights to cross borders. Failing to achieve this, can result in unnecessary delays and administrative hurdles. When the patient is critical, such a waste of time is can prove to be the difference between life and death. The degree of difficulty in obtaining these permits varies from one country to another. It can cost anywhere between USD 50 and USD 400.
Security of Medical Flights
All said and done, there are always those rare instances where air ambulances have to take off, and the ground staff then has to quickly work towards obtaining the permits. Security is a prime concern in such instances, especially if the travel destination is politically volatile. Experienced medical flight service providers are well aware of such issues and are always prepared for them. They know the process and the people in the right places to make it happen.
Planning the Duration
Typically, air ambulances can be prepared to take off within an hour but these are always short-haul. For longer distances, it can take twice this time. Fuel, medical supplies, landing permits, etc. are part of the preparation.
Medical flights are usually called for emergencies. It takes an experienced crew to smoothly handle the unexpected. This includes the pilot and also coordinators during long flights.
It is believed that the medical flights will be in great demand for most part of the next two decades and will grow at a rate of 9.3%. In the past year, the industry grew to US$ 4,524.7 million. Those are some robust numbers and not the kind we commonly see in the prevailing economy. What are the driving factors behind these trends? It is certainly not the affordability of the people as evident by the growing concerns surrounding the balance bills that never fail to make the headlines. It is the medical need that is driving the air ambulance industry. Here are some sharp insights.
Medical Flights and Diabetes
Perhaps the most common lifestyle disease that prevails today is diabetes. While there is nothing that cries emergency about diabetes, it is a cause for more serious ailments. People with diabetes are known to eventually develop serious heart and kidney conditions, which give rise to life-threatening emergencies. This is where medical flights come into picture. With the US fighting obesity and diabetes (as a consequence), the market is set on an upswing. In fact, currently, there are about 463 million diabetics in the country, and it is projected to reach 700 million in the next 25 years.
Medical Flights and Drug-Related Emergencies
The illicit drug menace has bothered the country for long. Today, it is believed drugs are among the biggest killers when it comes to people under the age of 50. A lot of times, these give rise to serious and unexpected medical emergencies ranging from overdose to motor vehicle accidents. Medical flights are the only recourse in most cases.
Medical Flights and Rural Hospitals
It is a known fact that rural hospitals have been closing down at a rapid rate in the country, and the trend has been up since a decade now. Medical flights are the only way out for the residents of such areas.
In a way, the market for medical flights is a reflection of how healthy the society is.
In light of the recent developments where medical flights around the world were disrupted due to illegally flying drones, there are a few questions that beg to be asked: “Is flying drones legal in the United States?”, “If so, what are the rules and legislations that govern flying of drones?”. Once you are aware of facts such as these, it helps flying them within the legal bounds making it easier for medical flights to ply. It must be noted in this context that flying drones is perfectly legal in the United States, subject to certain restrictions, so much so that even foreigners can bring them into the country and fly them. The Federal Aviation Authority as well as National Aviation Authority allow them.
Rules that Govern Drones in the United States
Rules for flying drones recreationally:
- The reason for flying must only be recreational and there must be no business angle to it.
- Hobbyists must visit https://faadronezone.faa.gov/#/ and register the drone with Federal Aviation Authority
- The drones must never escape your line of vision as you fly them
- Only those drones which are under 55 lbs are permitted
- One must never be close to any aircraft
- Only flying in Class G airspace is allowed
- It is strictly prohibited to fly close to emergency response vehicles such as medical flights
Rules for flying drones commercially:
- The operator must hold a FAA-issued Remote Pilot Certification
- The drones must be registered with FAA just like recreational ones
- It must weight under 55 lbs
- The flight must not cross the speed of 100 miles per hour
- The drone must always remain below 400 feet so that they do not disturb medical flights and other aircrafts
- Any manned aerial vehicle must be given the right to way
- Flying directly over people is prohibited
- Flying a drone from a vehicle is only allowed in thinly populated regions
If these simple rules are taken care of, drone flying becomes a safe activity.